Mary Kennedy Withrow, a staffer at the Western Pennsylvania Humane Society, arrived at the shelter recently and found a woman standing outside with a gorgeous German Shepherd. She said she had found the dog running down her street, and wanted to have her scanned.
“I would have kept her, but my other dog didn’t seem to like her,” she said.
“I’m already being very nice, but the hair was up on my back,” said Withrow. “I said to her, this is a beautiful, very nice dog. I’m sure somebody is looking for her. The right thing to do is to find the owner.”
Withrow looked at the dog’s collar, and found a tag with a serial number. “Upon a closer look, I could see that that ‘serial number’ began with the numbers ‘412,’” she said. “I took the tag off the dog and picked up the phone and called the rest of the numbers. A man answered the phone and I didn’t even get the words out of my mouth before he said, ‘Do you have my dog?'”
She told him a good Samaritan brought her in, and that she was at the shelter. “He was obviously frantic,” Withrow said. “I could hear him call to a bunch of people, ‘She’s been found!” He asked where we were located, and I told him.
“Within about 15 minutes, he showed up at the door. He was probably around 35 or 40 years old, his face white as a ghost. When he walked in it was a beautiful reunion, and he was in tears. It turned out he is a veteran with severe PTSD, and this dog is his service dog.”
The beautiful dog had somehow gotten out the day before, and he had been frantically searching for her since then. “He told us more about how she helped him and it was unbelievably beautiful,” Withrow said.
But what really stuck with Withrow, even more than the beautiful reunion, was that the woman who found the dog had intended to keep her, and would have if she’d gotten along with her other dog.
“I explained to her, after they reunited, how many dogs go missing, and people who find them just keep them, or they say they need a foster, or whatever,” she said. “At least in Pennsylvania, the law on stray holds only applies to shelters and rescues that hold dogs for the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture. Here, if you find a dog and you are not one of those shelters and rescues, you are not protected by any law. If you rehome the pet and the rightful owner somehow comes forward, not only did you create a lot of fear and anxiety for the dog and owner, not only could the dog possibly be a service dog, but you’ve also opened yourself up to be charged with theft.”
What’s more, she added, “I see this happen so much, and I see dogs brought to the shelter and people say that they found the dog, and tell us, ‘I’ve had it for a couple months but it wasn’t working out.’ I know people want to do right by the animals, but they have to remember there could be a person out there frantically searching, including a poor veteran who suffers from PTSD.
“There are so many people looking for their lost dogs and some of them will never have closure, never know what happened.”
The moral of the story: If you find a lost pet, don’t assume he or she had an uncaring owner, was abused, or needs to be adopted — nor that you have the right to keep that pet.
You can find tips on how to locate the owner of a found pet on the website of the Mission Reunite: Think lost, not stray